Dear PoP – Favorite Smithsonian Spots for a Scavenger Hunt?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

Living in DC, friends and family come to visit all the time. I enjoy taking them to museums, but I find myself always going to the same exhibits. Several years ago, I was living in Paris, and my art history professor made a kind of treasure hunt in the Louvre where each step led you to a new piece of artwork and a new set of clues. It was pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had in a museum, and I’d like to do a similar version across the entire Mall. Instead of just using all the most famous exhibits, I’d like to find quirkier and less-visited things to add to the list. I have my own favorite spots in each Smithsonian, but I’d love to hear some of your readers’ favorite things to see.”

This sounds like a really fun idea. Back in Sept. we talked about some of our favorite museums. But specific to the question, what Smithsonian exhibits do you guys think would make for good clues for a scavenger hunt?

20 Comment

  • I am a huge fan of the Leo Villareal tunnel (with all of the starkly lights) between the two wings of the National Gallery of Art. Also, the tower in the modern wind of the NGA.

  • if you don’t want to plan it yourself, check

    if you want to make it more challenging, you could include some Smithsonians that aren’t on the Mall, like the Anacostia Community Museum and the National Zoo.

    • Or the National Museum of Health and Medicine – it has the fragments of Abraham’s skull and the bullet that killed him.

  • National Museum of African Art. It’s on the Mall, behind the Castle. There’s a show on new acquisitions called “African Mosaic.” Lots of cool, unexpected subjects, materials – and a chance to see and learn about cultures that are unfamiliar to most folks. Plus it just opened an awesome new contemporary show.

  • Must haves:

    1)The Crash Test Dummies in the American History Museum
    2)The Original Kermit the Frog in the American History Museum
    3)The “Naked” George Washington Statue in the American History

  • Although it is kinda far from the national mall, I just recently did a scavanger hunt for my girlfriends birthday and made her search for the unmarked grave of David Harold in congressional semstery. Definetly off the beaten path but a very cool spot all the same.

  • Try Watson Adventures… local and has open public hunts you can join.

    We did one in the National Gallery and it was loads of fun.

  • The Sackler gallery with it’s changing exhibits and the hanging monkeys! The Peacock room in the Freer gallery too.

  • The Luce Foundation ( at the Smithsonian American Art Museum has organized scavenger hunts in the past. I accidentally ended up participating in one that was pretty fun.

  • The Luce Center on the third floor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum!

    It’s one of my favorite hidden gems in D.C. It’s a wonderful place to visit on a rainy day or late in the day, when all of the other museums have closed (it’s nice that the SAAM and Portrait Gallery are open until 7 p.m.)

    The Luce Center is set up like a library, with art displayed in glass cases like the stacks in a library. The works are arranged by category — painting, sculpture, metalwork, glass, folk art, furniture, textiles, etc. — and most pieces have only a number to identify them. Computer work stations enable you to get more information about a piece by looking up its number.

    And the Center has free scavenger hunts! They’re printed handouts available at the information desk that you can do at your leisure. There is also a free audio tour that describes specific pieces of artwork in the collection.

    I love the sanctuary-like feel of the Center. There are plenty of places to sit, the cafe-like level under the stacks has free wi-fi, and every time I’ve been there, very few other people were around, so it was very quiet. I like the way the display cases are arranged on open levels around a central atrium, and I like the olde-timey feel of the narrow staircases that lead from one level to another. In general, the entire third floor of the SAAM/Portrait Gallery has a different feel from the first two floors of the building.

  • My favorite exhibit is Julia Child’s kitchen. For something off the beaten path, send them to look for something in the Castle! (I never go in there and I should!)

  • The John Brown portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. You can see the ‘crazy’ in his eyes!

    Honorable Mention: The Juliette Gordon Low portrait (The most beautiful woman in DC) same place, just around the corner.

    The Albert Einstein Memorial.

    The underside of the Lincoln Memorial.

    The Tower of the Old Post Office Pavilion.

  • Scavenger Hunt item: go to the Anacostia Museum and write down the reasons of two people who aren’t African-American for coming to the Anacostia Museum.

    Scavenger Hunt item: try to find the physical site of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

    Scavenger Hunt item: find a piece of the interior of the Arts & Industries Building before it is gutted.

    Scavenger Hunt Item: find a person on the Mall who knows what the proper title of the Castle is.

  • I would include the MVSEVM sculpture by David Beck in the American Art Museum — not on the Mall but worth the short detour. It’s kind of a scavenger hunt in itself with miniatures that reference collections from the entire Smithsonian. There’s a video that shows him explaining and working on the piece at

  • How about Whistler’s Peacock room in the Freer Gallery?

  • the shaw memorial by augustus st gauden st is a favorite of mine.
    another is Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes by El Greco.

    both at the nga.

    the sirige masks at the african art are pretty spectacular.

  • Also in the National Gallery, the portrait of Ginevra de Benci, the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the western hemisphere.

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